For the past more than six years, 35 people from Punjab are captive in the West African Islamic Republic of Mauritania and another two have died.
The immigration mafia keeping them hostage have sought money from a travel agent in India for their release. The people were duped on the pretext of arranging their migration to Spain.
Gathered from different parts of Punjab on Wednesday in Jalandhar, the families of the hostages said they had lost contacts with the loved ones until a journalist, Harpal Singh Khanpuri, reported the captivity in a Spanish newspaper.
Joginder Kaur, mother of hostage Gurpreet Singh of Nangal Labhana village in Kapurthala district, recalls that two travel agents in Kapurthala took about Rs 7 lakh from the family for sending her son to Spain. "The family was told that the money was for a travel agent in Chandigarh who ultimately would send Gurpreet abroad," said the woman. "In November 2004, Gurpreet left home for Spain, and three days later, rang us up to say he was among 37 people stuck in the African country of Mali. After that, we lost contact with him."
Two travel agents from Jalandhar and another from Chandigarh had duped the young men dreaming of good prospects on foreign shores, said Joginder Kaur.
"Two of the 37 hostage have died."
Former union minister Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, president of the Lok Bhalai Party (LBP), accompanied the families to the press conference in Jalandhar. "I spoke with the journalist who brought the matter to light," said Ramoowalia. "He told me about the plight of 35 Indians stuck in Mauritania. I will take the issue to the ministry of external affairs."
If the men were not released in 15 days, said Ramoowalia, he would visit the African country himself. Contacted on telephone, journalist Harpal Singh Khanpuri said he wrote the news in Spain on the basis of inputs from another Indian.